Developer J.D. Carlisle Yanks Support for Kips Bay Plaza, Killing Project

A two-block pedestrian plaza for a Second Avenue service road in Kips Bay, which was on track for implementation this summer, has been indefinitely delayed after adjacent property owner J.D. Carlisle sent a letter to DOT last week saying that it opposed the project.

Developer J.D. Carlisle once supported a neighborhood association's application to DOT's plaza program, but no longer. In response, DOT has halted work on the plaza. Image: ## Bay Neighborhood Alliance##

DOT, which had hosted two public design workshops for the plaza, says it will not proceed without the support of Carlisle, which owns a two-block retail complex adjacent to the plaza site.

“It was obviously a disappointment, to say the least,” said Erica Rand Silverman, a board member of Kips Bay Neighborhood Alliance, which was the plaza’s sponsor. “We’ve been working on the plaza for a couple years. In that time, Carlisle has been really, really supportive.”

Carlisle provided financial support for maintenance of a three-month demonstration plaza over the summer, Silverman said.

The demo plaza relied on temporary materials from DOT and programming from KBNA. The result apparently left a bad impression and confused some local residents about what a final plaza would look like. “We did the best we could with the resources we were given,” Silverman said. “We got our tables, but not our chairs. We got our umbrellas, but two weeks before the plaza closed.”

Despite the problems with the summer installation and opposition from some residents of nearby Kips Bay Towers, KBNA collected 1,200 signatures in favor of the plaza by January. Design workshops in January and March moved forward, gathering feedback on the design.

But behind the scenes, J.D. Carlisle was souring on the project. On March 19, the company sent a letter to DOT [PDF] saying that it “staunchly opposed” the plaza, as did its two largest tenants, an AMC Loews movie theater and a Fairway supermarket.

Carlisle also said it was afraid that it would end up being responsible for maintaining the plaza. “We lack any confidence in the sponsoring entity’s (KBNA) ability to effectively raise the required funds,” J.D. Carlisle’s Evan Stein wrote.

“It’s unclear to me exactly what he means,” KBNA’s Silverman said, “because they were a big partner in pledging to fund the maintenance. We wouldn’t have these problems if they followed through on what they were saying.” Streetsblog has reached out to J.D. Carlisle for comment, but has not received a reply.

This isn’t the first time J.D. Carlisle’s plaza position has vexed local residents. In December, the developer said that Fairway opposed a year-round outdoor market that used the service road on Sundays and wanted it to move elsewhere. The grocery chain’s president said at a community board meeting that it had no such objections and the market was saved, but Carlisle then threatened to drop its support of the plaza project unless the market was moved.

Today, the market remains, and Carlisle has managed to kill the plaza project, for the time being.

Now, KBNA finds itself in a difficult position, attempting to fundraise for a plaza that may or may not happen without a major backer. “We’re still moving forward,” Silverman said.

  • Guest

    Compare this to the business and real estate interests on W. 41st Street and their support for “Boulevard 41.”

    Might I suggest reps from J.D. Carlisle take a field trip to Bryant Park?

  • Real New Yorker

    Midtown East seems to be the place where Livable Streets projects go to die. This section of Manhattan just seems doomed to be a backwater — a naturally-occuring retirement community peppered with bleak, anonymous office towers, lousy retail and lined by hostile, traffic-choked streets. So, congrats, JD Carlisle! It’s not easy to do but you’ve actually managed to diminish the value of a piece of real estate in Kips Bay.

  • Myrtleguy

    This is not surprising. Some businesses get it. Others are stuck in the 1980s. I’ll bet Carlisle is the latter, probably wary of attracting homeless or skateboarders. Fairway’s a good business but since when is opposition to neighborhood quality of life a perk for business. I’ve been by there lots of times and Fairway loads on 30th Street so a plaza on the service road wouldn’t even affect that.

    Goes to show that money/power isn’t always smart: Just look at this organization called Humanity polluting the world it depends upon for life.

  • Ellen M

    I’d be surprised if Fairway opposed it. It would be a great opportunity for them to open a cafe. They didn’t oppose the street market, though it was reported they did.

  • Eric McClure

    Surely 80 or 90% of the movie theater and Fairway patrons in the neighborhood drive there, right? Why is there a “service road” anywhere in Manhattan?

  • So, a little context:

    Until about 2 years ago, this complex (the western end of the Kips Bay Towers complex, which is a superblock in the mold of the old WTC and about as street unfriendly as it gets) was home to the current multiplex, a Petco and a Rite Aid, plus the now belly-up Borders and a Crunch Gym. Finally, a large space was open for years at the end of the complex where an Office Max used to be, years ago.

    Today, the multiplex, Petco, and Rite Aid remain unmoved, all are about the size and format of suburban models of these kind of stores. Fairway combined the old Office Max and Crunch Gym spaces to make a large basement supermarket with a street entrance on the south end – again, resembles a suburban store more than the other Manhattan outlets. Staples and TD Bank are now splitting the Borders space.

    The “service road” is really a driveway inset from Second Avenue lacking a proper sidewalk on the street side, and it’s been there for decades. Much of Second Avenue in this stretch is similarly pedestrian unfriendly.

    So, nothing located here is particularly urban in nature. If we were to fight for change in Kips Bay, a conversion to a plaza would be the very least we could do, and hardly any of the tenants could find a benefit from it. (It doesn’t affect deliveries; they have loading docks in the back) It just wouldn’t seem to do much unless there was some really vibrant programming planned along with the plaza. Doing a simple paint-job with folding chairs and tables, like on Broadway, simply wouldn’t be anything for anyone in this location.

    Then again, even if there is no real benefit lost in this delay/cancellation, it was seen that this was really low-hanging fruit for livable streets conversions.

    I think the only concern was Carlisle’s fear of having to dump money into it. There’s nothing else substantial to halt the conversion. Fairway has been misrepresented here before, and I bet that’s still the case; they need the service road like they need a bunch of crack addicts hanging around there.

    The fact that the DOT plays ball like this, and still gets excoriated in the press for being tone-deaf to stakeholders’ opinions, is one of the more disappointing aspects of their recent tenure. They seem to have no political capital to spend, at all. And this is a progressive administration! God help us that we get one of the more politically-sycophantic candidates as our next Mayor! We won’t even have sidewalks anymore.

  • Anonymous

    I think Brian has it right. J.D. Carlisle may have legitimate concerns about the financing. It’s not like they suddenly went “pro car” — more likely they just don’t want to be stuck with the bill for a design that doesn’t work. I know it may be sacrilege to say it here, but not all plaza designs are automatically good for business tenants. Seems like there are some weaknesses here.

  • Please make sure to emphasize that only “some” Kips Bay Towers residents opposed the plaza, because I and others here just as fervently supported it.

    My wife and I put a fair amount of time and energy into expressing this support, going so far as to attend some of the meetings held by the buildings’ most fervent opponents of the plaza. We wanted to see if we couldn’t reason with them, present a case for the pedestrianization effort, and so on. I’ll give them this: they heard us out. And we did learn more about the specific nature of the opposition, which was some mixture of miffedness that residents hadn’t been consulted in the initial community outreach, concern that the plaza would lower unit property values (!), and vague and inchoate fears about “the kind of people” that would use the plaza. (You would not be wrong if you assumed that these fears involved some pretty ugly feelings about race and class, the expression of which I found surprisingly overt and close to the surface.)

    I hear what some folks are saying about some fo the specific weaknesses of the plaza plan, and in fairness it certainly does seem that the community outreach could have been handled more skillfully — there might have been more buy-in. But here’s the thing. Those of us who live in Kips Bay Towers *have* a place to sit and relax in the shade of a tree. It’s a three-and-a-half acre, residents-only park that we can use any day of the year, any time we want. It seems unconscionable to me that people with access to such privilege could want to deny even a sliver of the same amenity to their neighbors…but in this case a clutching and completely misguided fear for property values and a fear of those neighbors themselves seem to effectively scuttled this initiative. The irony, of course, is that like the Second Avenue Subway station and the proposed bikeshare node at the corner, I can’t imagine the pedestrianization would have done anything but enhance the community, materially, socially and even in terms of those all important property values.

    Having heard the things I did, I’m pretty disappointed in my neighbors right now. And don’t get me started about J.D. Carlisle.

  • Nick

    Sad to see this die (at least die for the moment), but if KBNA and the city did not have the ability to properly manage the plaza, it made no sense to do it. These things need to be done right, or they become worse than what was there before. I’m just hoping the project can get re-started with better backing. A quality urban space in this area would be a huge benefit to the neighborhood.


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